AUTHOR’S PRIVATE COLLECTION/ELIO PRIETO GARAY
This essay is an adaptation of the book-length manuscript La Revolucion Cubana explicada a los taxistas and was translated by Esther Allen. A video of Prieto discussing his essay with Nation contributor Daniel Wilkinson, the deputy director of the Americas division at Human Rights Watch, is available here.
On a day more than ten years ago I arrived in New York City–my second or third trip to America–and studied a line of taxis in the freezing cold: this new landscape, the United States, a country that my country had been at war with my whole life. Or that my country had endlessly claimed to be at war with, at least. My taxi driver was an Indian or Pakistani with the look of one who had few friends. I spent a long minute arguing with him, trying, at some length, to give him the address of my destination. Finally he turned his whole body toward me and sharply corrected me, but then, looking me over a second longer and ascertaining that there was no great malice in me but only a newcomer’s ineptitude, he pondered my accent and asked, to sweeten my mood, “What country you come from?”
When I told him, he exclaimed “Cuba?” and then “Fidel Castro!”
He said it in the most annoying way, snapping his fingers, smacking his lips in sheer gusto, squaring his shoulders as he scrutinized me once more in the rearview mirror. He had the stance, the vehemence, the sudden energy of someone talking about a much-admired local strongman. His English was no better than mine, but he wanted badly to express what he felt, so he struck the palm of his right hand loudly against his left fist: “He gave to the Americans up the ass.”
I’m sure I must have leaned toward the divider to read his name through the plexiglass; this was at the very beginning of my visits to New York, and it was the first time I’d encountered that reaction. But if I did read the name I don’t remember it.
It was fall. I remember that and the city’s distant silhouette, the gray mass of skyscrapers. I also remember how greatly his reaction surprised me: to think that there was so much sympathy–in America!–for the Cuban Revolution.
In July 1999 a taxi driver took me from Barajas to Sol, in Madrid. As we traveled across the city, we listened to news of a terrible plane crash reported in blood-curdling detail. The taxi driver turned the dial and found a melody much in vogue that summer, then began watching me covertly in the mirror. When I noticed, I gave him an automatic polite nod and immediately he inquired, “From your country?”
“No, she’s from Mexico,” I answered, meaning the singer. “I’m from Cuba.”
As if by magic, he said, “Ah, Cuba! Fidel Castro!”–with pure delight and no thought of giving offense.